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How to Manage Financial Anxiety During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A lot of people are experiencing financial distress right now.

 LumiNola / E+ / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Two major concerns for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic are financial and mental health.
  • You might be eligible to receive help from government programs and resources such as disability, family medical leave, and unemployment.
  • To address financial concerns, some people might be able to look for other sources of income, arrange for certain payments to be deferred or reduced, or take advantage of grants or loans.
  • Strategies for staying mentally healthy can include practicing good self-care, working on developing healthy coping skills, staying physically active, and seeking out emotional support.

Like millions of other Americans, you might find yourself out of work right now during the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike other situations where a lay-off may have been somewhat expected, this came as a sudden and devastating blow for many.

And there aren’t many answers about when this will end, what will happen to the future of work, and what sort of assistance will be available to unemployed and under-employed workers.

Programs and policies about benefits and paid leave are just beginning to unfold—at the same time that many businesses are being forced to shut their doors indefinitely.

It can be a scary, stressful time for many reasons. And if you have to worry about how to get by financially, the added stress may cause you to feel completely overwhelmed.

If you’re jobless and anxious right now, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to address both your financial situation and your mental health, so you can make the best decisions for you and your family during this difficult time.

Find Out What You’re Eligible For

If you have sick leave at the office, you should be able to use it now. You may also be eligible for disability, unemployment, or family medical leave. The rules vary by state, and laws continue to unfold as the government scrambles to figure out how to address the pandemic.

If you have a regular employer, check with your HR department first. Inquire about any benefits and paid leave you may be eligible for.

If you’re self-employed, you may not have as many options. But you may still be eligible for some benefits. You can learn more about the benefits available to you by accessing your state government’s website.

You may also be eligible for a small business loan. You can apply for a low-interest loan if you need cash to keep your business afloat.

Don’t be afraid to use any community resources available as well. Many cities and towns are providing free lunches to children as well as other programs to ensure families are getting through this tough time.

Prioritize Your Payments

If there isn’t enough money to go around, you may not be able to make all of your payments. So it’s important to prioritize which bills you’re going to pay first.

If you’re someone who has always prided themselves on paying their bills on time, not being able to make payments may feel overwhelming and scary. But, remember that right now, the usual rules don’t apply. When you’re in an emergency situation like this, you’ll need to do things a little differently. 

Take care of your basic needs first—food, shelter, utilities, clothing, and transportation. Just keep in mind that you need to focus on necessities. Don’t order takeout or delivery right now if you can help it. Buy food from the grocery store.

Your clothing needs should also be minimal when everyone in the family is at home. Of course, if you’re thinking of applying for new jobs, you may need something to wear to an interview. Just resist the urge to engage in any retail therapy in hopes of helping you feel better. It’ll only backfire in the long run.

Keep an eye on rules about rent and mortgage payments. Some states are implementing programs that prevent evictions during the pandemic.

Some locations are also addressing utility issues. Your lights and water might not be shut off due to your inability to pay. Check with your local regulations to see if they are offering any type of relief to people who are out of work.

Develop a list of the order in which you need to cover your bills and basic expenses. Keep in mind you may need to let your credit card bills wait, or you may need to forgo the cable bill. Those things can wait until you have more financial security.

This doesn’t mean you should just ignore your bills, however. Contact the companies, and explain your situation. They may be able to assist you while you are out of work.

Many banks, credit cards, and other financial institutions are offering assistance. They may forgo late fees or allow you to pay less. Contact your institution to talk about any relief programs you may be eligible for.

Search for Alternative Sources of Income

It’s not clear how long the pandemic will last or how long jobs will be affected. You may want to begin looking for alternative sources of income.

Some companies are desperate to hire workers right now. Grocery stores, delivery companies, and online learning companies are scrambling to hire people to help them keep up with demand.

You might also look for opportunities to join the “gig economy.” Whether you have graphic design skills, or you’ve got some editing skills, there are many ways to earn extra cash from home.

You might also look at things you can sell. With slower shipping and few stores open, people may be more willing to pay for items you have sitting around the house. It may be a good time to clean out your closets, sort through those boxes, and get rid of any items you don’t need anymore. 

If it’s something that is best to sell local, like furniture, turn to social media to list your items. If it’s something that might sell anywhere in the United States, consider listing on eBay or a similar type of site.

Manage Your Mental Health

Many studies have linked financial distress to poorer mental health. The more you stress about money, the harder it may be to manage your psychological well-being—and vice versa.

In addition to worrying about money right now, the stress of unemployment, the sudden disruption of your routine, and the uncertainty of the future are additional factors that may affect your psychological well-being.

So it’s important to manage your mental health the best you can during this stressful time. Here are some steps you can take to stay as mentally healthy as possible.

Practice Good Self-Care

It would be easy to neglect yourself right now. But an unhealthy diet, poor sleep, and a lack of leisure time will only compound your stress. Do your best to take care of your mind and body.

Make caring for yourself a high priority, so you have plenty of energy to tackle the problems you’re facing.

Identify and Practice Healthy Coping Skills

Many of your go-to coping strategies may not be available to you right now—like going to the gym or having coffee with friends. So it’s important to identify what coping strategies you can use to manage your stress level.

You may need to get a little creative. A virtual coffee hour with your friends via video chat might be in order. You may find listening to a meditation app helps as well. But you won’t know unless you try.

Experiment with a variety of coping skills until you discover what works best for you. But be on the lookout for coping strategies that create bigger long-term problems. Avoid overeating or turning to alcohol, for example, as these can both create new problems for you.

Get Physically Active

Research shows exercise is important to mental health. It can boost your happiness and help keep depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues at bay.

A 2018 study published in The Lancet Psychiatry found that 45 minutes of exercise three to five times per week was associated with the biggest mental health benefits.

Walking, running, strength training, and yoga are just a few ways you might get some physical activity right now. If you can safely exercise outdoors, it may be especially good for your mental health. But if you can’t, then get some physical activity inside your home.

You can find plenty of workouts on social media. Right now, many fitness trainers are offering online classes that are meant to be done at home with little or no equipment.

You might also check out apps, courses, or other online training programs that will help you be active at home.

Create a Schedule

Without a job, you might feel a bit lost about what to do with your time. And if you’re not careful, you could end up wasting endless hours watching TV or scrolling through social media.

Having a consistent schedule can help you feel your best. Create a schedule that will help you find time to do the things you need to do—like make phone calls, update your resume, apply for benefits, and manage your budget.

Make sure to include plenty of time to take care of yourself and participate in some leisure activities. Participating in activities that boost your mood every once in a while can help you feel better—and help you do better.

You may also want to limit the amount of time you spend consuming media right now. The more you watch news stories that recount death tolls and make catastrophic predictions, the more anxious you’ll feel. You might feel better if you commit to only checking the news two times per day, rather than allowing yourself to be exposed to it all day long.

Set Aside Time for Problem-Solving

Feeling your best requires you to devote time to the problems you’re facing as well as how you’re feeling about those problems.

Be sure to set aside time to address your financial problems or to look for a job in the future. Getting things done will help you feel better.

When you find yourself worrying about things, focus on looking for a solution instead of dwelling on the problem.

Seek Emotional Support

When you’re struggling with emotions, like anxiety and sadness, it can be helpful to talk to someone. Whether you call your friend who is in a similar predicament, or you reach out to your mother to talk about concerns, emotional support can help you gain strength during this stressful time.

Just make sure you aren’t complaining or making catastrophic predictions. And don’t invest a lot of time into talking to people who are. Those sorts of conversations will only fuel your anxiety.

Instead, talk about how you feel and the action steps you’re going to take.

If you’re struggling to manage your anxiety to the point that it’s difficult to function, seek professional help. You might call your physician to get a referral to a mental health professional, or you can check out a directory to find a local therapist.

Many therapists aren’t seeing patients in person right now, however. So you might opt for online therapy. There are many apps and websites devoted to online treatment that allow you to message, video chat, or speak with a licensed mental health professional over the phone.

What This Means For You

During this state of emergency, you may need to do whatever you can to get through. If you can’t pay your bills, don’t panic. Work on balancing your time between solving your problems and managing how you feel about your problems.

Managing your mental health right now may seem like a difficult task. But staying mentally well can be key to helping you get through this pandemic the best way you can.

Focus on the things you can control (like doing things that can help you stay as healthy as possible) and commit less time to things you can’t control, like the state of the economy.

Resources

There are many resources available to individuals in specific areas or to workers in certain industries. It’s important to look for any that may specifically help you. In the meantime, here are some general resources that may help a variety of people who are financially impacted by the COVID-19:

  • State Government websites – Go to your state’s website to learn about financial assistance programs, unemployment benefits, and services available in your area.
  • 211 – Whether you’re having trouble locating a physician or you can’t figure out how to get help paying for an essential utility, contact 211. They can point you to the best resources for your specific issue.
  • US Department of Labor – The US Department of Labor website provides information about family medical leave and your rights during the pandemic.
  • Career One Stop Go here to learn about unemployment benefits you may be eligible for in your state.
  • Families First Coronavirus Response Act – Read about the bill that would provide paid sick leave and free coronavirus testing, expand food assistance and unemployment benefits, and require additional protections for healthcare workers.
  • Small Business Loans – Small businesses may apply for low-interest disaster loans. 
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Article Sources
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  2. Chekroud SR, Gueorguieva R, Zheutlin AB, et al. Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1·2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: A cross-sectional studyThe Lancet Psychiatry. 2018;5(9):739-746. doi:10.1016/s2215-0366(18)30227-x